The Pursuit of Now  is part of the Buta Festival of Azerbaijani Arts, held at Sadler's Wells Theatre  which celebrates the country and its people. The programme promised that British contemporary dancer Akram Khan would improvise with the Azeri jazz pianist Shahin Novrasli. This London stage has seen numerous succesful collaborations, yet this one definitely brings together creative energies. The brainchild of the festival, Nasib Piriyev, is committed to celebrating the Azerbaijani culture which, as he claims, can be understood through its music and arts.

© Carl Sukonik of The Vain Photography
© Carl Sukonik of The Vain Photography

Khan and German-based dancer Honji Wang complimented each other wonderfully though they move in starkly different movement styles; Khan is the king of combining traditional Kathak dance with contemporary vocabulary and Wang deserves a crown herself for bringing breakdance and contemporary together in such organic fashion. The chemistry between the two was mesmerizing, though it would have been nice to see more of them dancing together. The pair in their only duet were in control of their bodies as they played a game of passing the imaginary Tai Chi energy ball to one another. This is a creative way to establish a relationship onstage that has been employed by others before, however with Khan and Wang as the players, it was magical.

The musicians were of 5 star quality, and their beauty and energy were simply incredible. Jazz musicians typically have flare, and pianist Shahin Novrasli led the pack. Drummer Ari Hoenig  and bass player Nathan Peck were also dominant presences on stage but all clearly followed Novrasli. About twenty minutes into the structured improvisation, the trio was joined onstage by Arslan Novrasli playing the Tar and Nurlan Novrasli playing the Khanende; both traditional Azeri instruments. After a rather long and sometimes high-pitched out of sync intro, the musicians started to gel and found their way towards producing an eerie yet beautiful piece of music. The fusion between the more contemporary jazz music and the traditional string instruments had a spiritual Islamic feel to it, making me dream of the Caspian Sea or the Greater Caucasus mountain range. 

As the evening progressed, there were moments when the dancers reappeared, but only for a few minutes each. Wang surprised us, yet again, with a powerful solo. A piece that played with bound and sharp shoulder flourishes followed by slithering hips accentuated the Jazz rhythms perfectly. The breakdance movements were edgy and creatively competed with the red and black lighting scheme designed by Fabiana Piccioli. The female breakdancer looked young but had a flare for timing and the wisdom of a confirmed performer who knows how to command a stage yet could also follow another (here a musician) when needed. Khan, no stranger to wielding, was also breath taking in his solo. Fast spins and impulsive hand gestures created a tension in the body that was soon followed by a release though the hands. Magnetic and inviting, yet simple and effortless are qualities that Khan has mastered over the years. He is a beautiful performer with a stage presence that is rare. 

© Carl Sukonik of the Vain Photography
© Carl Sukonik of the Vain Photography
Akram Khan and Shahin Novrasli are incredibly gifted artists with an art for collaboration. The Pursuit of Now brought various forces together on one stage but didn't strike a balance between the amount of dances and the musical numbers. Those who went to see Khan and Wang dance might have been disappointed with the paucity of the dance numbers that were presented. However, those who came for the Jazz musicians could clearly be impressed. For me, although the music was enjoyable, the programme could have taken  a more balanced approach including more dance - after all Khan and Wang were the guests of honour.  

 

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